By Theresa Kuo, OTR/L
Back in 1967 when I was 8 months pregnant and sitting for the OT Registration examination, I never thought I would be still be a working OTR/L, let alone alive and well, 50 years later in 2017! My first decade of practice was devoted to adult physical rehabilitation in New York, New Jersey, and California.
Intervening decades involved being a mother to three children, and international moves to Kenya and Switzerland. I worked at the World Health Organization in Geneva for 10 years in The Global Programme on AIDS and the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases. I really loved working in administration, but I missed patient care.
Flash forward 40 years and, as a retiree, I decided to give back by volunteering. It was pure serendipity that I chose a skilled nursing facility while my husband volunteered at an outpatient clinic near our retirement community. I helped with the paperwork in the rehabilitation department while observing the young therapists. They knew I was an OT, so they encouraged me to get my California license to join them. There was a need!
Returning to work was definitely on the horizon because I enjoyed watching the OT and PT therapy sessions. The interest was there, so I followed the itch by researching education as a means to return. One preparation was to stop rinsing my hair. If I fell asleep during class with black hair, the instructor would think I was lazy. But, if I had white hair, there would be more sympathy! There was no need for this precaution since the classes at the San Jose State University to earn 30+ CEUs to qualify for a California license were absolutely stimulating! I met many like-minded people who had not worked in the field for years. I was in OT heaven.
Returning to OT was not easy in the beginning, but with the help of the younger therapists, fantastic patients, and a very understanding husband, I have been an on-call rehab OT for about 10 years now, and will continue as long as I am needed and my health permits.
I’ve noticed many changes since my early days in the 1960s–70s:
1) Occupational therapy and physical therapy are held side by side in one large room. This leads to ongoing communication and great camaraderie between the disciplines, including speech-language pathology.
2) It has become more obvious that OT is more functionally oriented (i.e., safe activities of daily living is emphasized vs crafts, as in earlier VA Hospitals).
3) The younger OTs seem a lot more confident in their knowledge and career than perhaps my generation and me decades ago. The master’s degree requirement was a definite help.
4) We have passed the basket-weaving stage, placing us on stronger footing as therapists. We are confident that function is the end product of purposeful physical and mental exercises! The patients respond well when I explain why we do certain exercises and my goals for them.
As a septuagenarian, I find that my age and white hair (yes, I have natural white hair now!) gives me an edge in patient contact. We are approximately the same age, have the same cultural background (like sighing over Gary Cooper or knowing the consequences of a broken hip in the 1950s), and even the same vocabulary. I can relate to their aches, pains, and fears because I have them too, though to a lesser degree. We geezers understand one another!
I definitely recommend that OTs consider working beyond retirement age if their health permits. I have the best of both worlds: working in a job I absolutely love, and yet have time to be semi-retired to garden extensively, have many hobbies (lapidary, ceramics, quilting, paper crafts), and be the head counselor at Camp Grandma to our granddaughter.
Theresa Kuo, OTR/L, currently works at Manor Care in Walnut Creek, CA.